A WALK IN THE PARK
Copyright Helen Pryke
Cover copyright Francesco
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A Walk In The Park
Like all good fairy
tales, this story starts with “Once upon a time”.
However, unlike all good fairy tales, there is no princess who lives
happily ever after. But this is a story based on real life, and
everyone knows that real life isn’t a fairy tale, don’t
they? For now, enough of all that. Let us begin.
Once upon a time there
was a girl (me) called Anne. Anne lived in the city, in an apartment
that overlooked an enormous, shady park. Every day she got up early,
got dressed and went to work. She liked going to work; not so much
for her job, which for her was just a way of earning money, but for
her daily walk across the park on her way to work. Unlike many
people, she was happy with her own company and she was content with
her solitary life. She thought things would carry on in this way for
a long, long time. Obviously she was wrong (otherwise there would be
no story). One day, everything changed. Forever.
One hot, sunny day in
August, Anne left her apartment and strode towards the park. As
usual, she stopped at the newsagent’s on the way and picked up
her copy of The
(she preferred glossy magazines but she had to look like a serious
business woman in front of her male colleagues). She bought a
take-away coffee at the kiosk and entered the park. That morning
there was a pleasant breeze that made the leaves on the trees flutter
and blew her long, black hair around her face. She smiled, happy, and
made her way towards ‘her’ bench, always unoccupied so
early in the morning.
But that morning it
wasn’t unoccupied. There was a man sitting in her place, calmly
watching the world go by without even realising that he was sending
Anne into a flurry of panic. What should she do? This had never
happened before. Should she walk past and look for another bench? She
stood still, hesitant, unsure how to handle this situation. Then she
started to get angry. Why should she let that
whoever he was, ruin her day, which had started so well? She
straightened her shoulders and determinedly plonked herself down
beside the man. They both sat there on the bench, ignoring each
other. Anne sipped her coffee, blowing lightly on it to cool it down,
and she started to read her newspaper. Yet she found it hard to
concentrate as she was so very aware of the man sitting next to her.
She furtively glanced
across at him and her traitorous heart began beating more quickly. He
was so handsome, with his blond hair and blue eyes - just like a
real-life prince charming! He seemed so comfortably relaxed, his long
legs stretched out before him and his arms crossed. The typical pose
of a self-assured man. He must have felt the force of her stare
because he turned towards her and smiled. She felt her cheeks burning
- she was certain they’d turned bright red and quickly looked
“Hi,” he said
in a friendly voice.
Anne answered, not sure where to look.
“Sorry if I’ve
nicked your spot but I wanted to see what was so amazing about this
bench. I’ve seen you sitting here sometimes and you seem so
happy and relaxed, as if you’d returned home after a long
absence.” He laughed, embarrassed. “I don’t know if
that makes any sense?”
Anne looked at him in
surprise. He’d just described exactly how she felt every time
she sat on the bench. “I don’t remember seeing you
before,” she said.
“You probably don’t
recognise me” he said, then changed the subject. “My
name’s Mark, pleased to meet you.”
They passed a pleasant
half an hour in chatting, getting to know each other, becoming
friends. When Anne had to leave to go to work, they arranged to meet
again the following morning.
So now Anne had two
reasons for getting up every morning: her daily walk in the park and
meeting her new friend. Time passed, she got used to the new routine,
and everything carried on as if it had always been like that.
because this is a fairy tale after all, everything changed again.
Anne and Mark met up on the bench one afternoon after work and
started chatting. Suddenly they heard a loud shriek that came from
some nearby trees. They both jumped up and ran towards the noise,
where they found a tragic scene. There on the ground, under the
gnarled branches of an ancient oak, lay the unmoving body of a young
boy. His left leg was bent and seemed broken. But the most terrible
thing was his head. It was twisted round in an unnatural way and a
thin line of blood dribbled out of the boy’s half-open mouth.
Anne ran over to the boy,
then stopped, unsure what to do. She reached out a hand and put two
fingers on his neck. “I can’t feel a pulse,” she
Mark didn’t say
anything. He knelt down, heedless of dirtying his trousers, and
started unbuttoning the boy’s shirt.
“What are you
doing?” Anne cried.
answered. Then he stared straight into her eyes. “I need you to
be quiet now, if I’m to help him. Whatever happens, you mustn’t
make any noise. OK?”
She nodded, confused. “Of
course,” she said. “But can you really do anything?”
Mark sighed heavily. “I
think so. Let me work now. Remember, no noise.”
Anne held her breath
while she watched Mark. He put both his hands on the boy’s bare
chest and started applying pressure. For a few seconds nothing
happened, then Anne’s eyes opened wide in shock. A white, hot
light flowed along Mark’s arms towards the boy’s chest,
then passed over his body, getting brighter until Anne had to shield
her eyes from its glare. She bit her tongue to stop herself crying
out when she saw the boy’s chest rise and fall, once, twice,
three times, and he started to breathe regularly. But the surprises
were not over yet. Anne watched, open-mouthed, as the boy’s
neck slowly straightened up and the trickle of blood flowed backwards
until it had gone. His left leg went back into place and now it
looked as if the boy was just sleeping. Her hands started shaking and
she was sure she would start screaming at any moment. The boy opened
his eyes and sat up, a surprised expression on his face.
“Wh-where am I?”
he asked, dazed.
“Stay still, you
fell out of a tree. You should be OK now, but be more careful in
future,” Mark answered.
Somehow, through the
mists of shock that surrounded her, Anne realised that there was
something wrong with Mark. His voice seemed different, somehow,
deeper. She slowly turned and stared at him, then she did
begin to scream. It felt as if she were in the middle of a nightmare
and couldn’t wake up. Her beautiful prince charming looked at
least twenty years older all of a sudden. His blond hair was now
streaked with grey and he had deep wrinkles around his eyes. He
jumped up and put an arm around her shoulders.
“Wait just a bit
longer, then I’ll explain everything,” he whispered. They
helped the boy stand up and watched as he made his way back home
across the park. Anne shuddered; the young boy strode purposefully
over the grass, full of vitality, but in her mind’s eye all she
could see was his twisted, broken body devoid of any life.
Mark led Anne to their
bench and they sat down. Then, speaking in a low voice, he began. He
told her about his pet rabbit that had broken its leg when he was
four years old, about how he had felt an incredible heat pass from
his body to the rabbit’s, about how the animal had leapt off
his lap and started running around, its leg intact. At the beginning
he’d thought that his ‘magic touch’ was a blessing
but he’d soon understood that it was a curse. By the time he
was six he had the body of a twelve-year-old and he’d learnt to
stay away from injured people or animals. His parents had refused to
believe that he was able to heal and they never spoke about it. He
had left home as soon as he could and up until then he had tried to
live a normal life.
Anne stared at him,
incredulous. “How old are you?” she murmured. What if he
told her he was fifteen?
twenty-two,” Mark answered.
“I th-thought you
were at least thirty,” Anne stammered. Oh no, he was ten years
younger than her!
Mark said. “I’ve never spoken about this to anyone
before. I wanted to... but I didn’t know how to tell you.”
Anne shook her head
sadly. “I’m so sorry. But if it hadn’t been for you
that boy would be dead now. Instead he’s gone back home as if
nothing ever happened to him today. I...” She started crying,
unable to carry on. He held her tight, murmuring reassuring words in
From that moment, their
relationship changed. They lived every day to the full, grateful for
another chance to see each other. They told each other everything
about themselves, completely open and honest, laughing and crying
together, holding nothing back. And every now and then he had a few
more grey hairs or some deeper wrinkles and she learnt not to ask
questions but to accept him for what he was.
Until the day that Anne
crossed the road in front of the park, unaware that the approaching
lorry driver was too engrossed in his telephone conversation to
notice her, until a squeal of brakes preceded the loud bang that
seemed to explode through her head. She found herself lying on the
ground, a pool of blood under her head, hardly conscious, but she
knew that Mark was running over to her and that he was going to touch
said a voice inside her head, and there was his voice, so familiar,
murmuring loving words in her ear. She wanted to tell him not to
touch her, to go away, but she couldn’t, she was too weak.
Suddenly she felt a wave of heat pass through her body and then the
pain was gone. She opened her eyes and saw his face, an old man’s
face, watching her, worry etched all over it.
sweetheart,” he whispered. “You’re all right now.”
She lifted her arm and
stroked his white hair, tears streaming down her face. “You
shouldn’t have done it,” she sobbed. “Look at you
He smiled. “Be more
careful in future, both for yourself and for our son,” he said.
His face suddenly turned white and he slumped to the ground. Anne
started screaming, knowing that he was gone forever, and it felt as
if she would never stop.
Like I said, there’s
no “and she lived happily ever after”
in this story. After all, real life is no fairy tale, although it can
seem magical at times. Today, I’m sat here on the bench with a
glossy magazine next to me (no more Times,
no more office, I’m living life to the full now) and a light
breeze gently blows through my hair, like a loving hand caressing me,
reassuring me. I smile as I watch the sleeping baby in the pram, my
son, Mark’s son. The two of us taking our daily walk in the